Tag Archives: health

Rising from a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Health

Sara McLanahan, Editor-in-Chief of Future of Children, along with several colleagues, recently prepared a policy report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that describes children’s exposure to violence in the Fragile Families Study (see the Future of Children Fall 2010 volume to learn more about Fragile Families). The report examines neighborhood violence, intimate partner violence, and harsh parenting, and finds that these types of violence are endemic and interrelated. An implication of these findings is that we need to tackle all these kinds of violence simultaneously, rather than in isolation. The authors point out, for instance, that reducing harsh parenting practices of mothers who experience domestic violence and are worried about their child’s safety won’t be as effective as reducing harsh parenting while also taking on the other problems.

What’s preventing us from achieving this vision?

Part of the problem, as the policy report points out, is that our efforts to combat violence could be more holistic. In other words, there might be a number of specialized programs working on different types of violence within the same community, and yet there can be a disconnect in communication and coordination between these well-meaning efforts. This disconnect warrants consideration.

To gather ideas from stakeholders on how to “break down the silos” between specialized efforts, RWJF has provided a discussion forum led by Senior Program Officer Martha Davis, along with a dialogue on RWJF’s LinkedIn Leadership Network. In the discussion threads, a common theme I noticed from several community leaders was that we should use common needs as a way to build relationships that cross program boundaries. The proposition that all stakeholders–such as prevention, intervention, community services and government–should come together, trust one another, share information and resources, and work together on objectives seems promising.

As a social worker, I often wonder how ideas and research can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. With this in mind, I recently connected with Martha and discussed the bigger picture. What I learned from our conversation was that we can all catch RWJF’s vision of a culture of health in our communities–part of which is that all children will be able to grow up in safe and nurturing environments at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. And that all children will have a real chance from the very beginning to develop to their full potential as individuals. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the President of RWJF, describes this vision in her 2014 President’s Message. I’m excited by the challenge to promote a culture of health.

I would like to invite you to join the conversation. Read the policy report and comment below to share your ideas. Tell us about any programs or policies you believe are making a difference that we can learn from, how you think we can move from a culture of violence to a culture of health, or anything else you think can be part of the solution for improving environments for children and their families.

Health of Caregivers and Childhood Food Insecurity

We often assume that low household income causes children’s food insecurity. But the Future of Children’s recent research report highlights a number of additional factors that contribute to food insecurity. One notable risk factor is a caregiver who faces mental or physical health problems.

The latest research shows that even when we account for income level, caregivers’ health is still central to children’s food security. For example, a recent paper in the Journal of Children and Poverty found that mothers in food-secure families had better overall health and were less likely to report substance use compared with mothers in food-insecure households. Craig Gunderson and James Ziliak‘s Future of Children report cites a number of health factors that can contribute to children’s food insecurity, including parental depression, parental drug use, or living with an adult with a disability.

What can we do to help children in these situations? The authors point out that the effect of caregiver’s mental and physical health on family food security raises concerns about families’ ability to navigate the welfare system. A caregiver’s health problems may also be exacerbated by lack of access to services. While the authors argue that improved access to services could improve food security, they also state that we need further research on how policy makers can create more accessible systems. The authors offer one suggestion to address the risk factor of substance use: ensuring that mothers who seek substance use treatment are enrolled in SNAP and WIC, if they are eligible. Perhaps a similar idea could be implemented in other contexts where caregivers receive medical or mental health treatment.

As more researchers explore the relationship between food security and health, new policy possibilities may come to light. However, the research highlighted in the Future of Children report makes us aware that health contributes to food security, and low income is not the only indicator of risk. In following blog posts, we will explore additional factors that influence food security. To learn more about health and food insecurity, see the Future of Children‘s Fall 2014 research report.

A Two-Generation Solution to Education Disparity

Education tends to pay off. Higher educational attainment is associated with higher earnings, lower unemployment and better health. In the Future of Children, Neeraj Kaushal explains that education also influences important lifestyle decisions such as marriage, sex, childbearing, and substance use.

Importantly, parents’ education not only affects themselves, but also affects the wellbeing of their children. Better-educated parents often pass down the tradition of education to their children along with its benefits. The intergenerational payoffs of education are persistent and perhaps even underestimated.

While some families benefit immensely from education, other families face structural obstacles to advancing their socioeconomic status via further educational attainment. Racial and ethnic disparities are apparent by education, and children with less-educated parents are less likely to succeed in school. Furthermore, Kaushal points out, the U.S. education system reinforces socioeconomic inequality across generations by spending more money on educating richer children than poorer children.

These challenges lend support to the idea of targeting education-related interventions toward less-educated parents and their children. This might be done via a two-generation approach in which parents and children are served simultaneously. While the theoretical basis for these programs is strong, the empirical evidence is only emerging. What we do know is that investing in parents is likely to have a lasting effect on children’s health and development, which in turn increases their wellbeing as adults. There is also evidence that adult offspring’s educational attainment influences the health and life expectancy of the parents, even after accounting for parents’ socioeconomic resources. This may be due to children’s knowledge of health and technology they share with their parents and having more financial means to support them. It’s arguable that investing in programs that aim to increase parents’ education and skills at the same time as they invest in children’s development could go a long way to reduce intergenerational inequality.

For more information about two-generation programs, see the Future of Children volume Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms.

A Holistic Approach to Healthcare

The health of parents and children are closely intertwined, yet the health-care system generally does not take an integrated approach to family health treatment. For instance, pediatricians who treat children with asthmatic symptoms often do not ask about parents’ smoking and rarely intervene to help change the parents’ smoking behavior. It’s probably not considered within the scope of their practice and they aren’t able to bill the treatment to the child’s insurance. This situation is problematic since a primary cause of the symptoms is likely the secondhand smoke in the child’s environment. Pediatricians don’t necessarily need to abandon their specialization and start treating parents and children in the same practice, but the solution likely lies in reforming the health care system to be more holistic and interconnected.

Sherry Glied and Don Oellerich write in the Two-Generation issue of Future of Children that few programs aim to treat parents and children together due to structural barriers in the U.S. health-care system. They argue that the Affordable Care Act, which expands coverage to millions of lower-income parents, is a necessary step to help establish a policy environment to allow for two-generation approaches to health.

Importantly, it’s up to the states to take two further steps. First, they need to ensure that parents and children can be treated in the same programs despite Medicaid eligibility. Second, they should give providers incentives to generate meaningful changes in their practices, such as embracing the patient-centered medical home model which makes additional payments to providers who coordinate their services with other medical and social service providers.

Glied and Oellerich conclude that the rationale for two-generation programs that target both children’s and parents’ health problems is strong, and there are new opportunities ahead to develop and implement these programs.